The Work

November 9, 2011 5:45 PM

Paterno, President Out at Penn State as Legal Fallout from Sex Abuse Case Continues

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: 11/9/11, 11:15 p.m., EST. After an emergency meeting of Penn State's board of trustees, head football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier have been fired, according to CNN. Paterno's head coaching career at the school began on September 17, 1966, and he made history in October with his 409th win.

A bevy of Pennsylvania lawyers have landed roles advising parties connected to the explosive scandal that has plagued Penn State University since authorities charged former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky with 40 counts of sexual abuse and two high-ranking school officials with covering up his alleged crimes.

The fast-moving story took a new turn Wednesday when Penn State's legendary 84-year-old head football coach, Joe Paterno, announced that he is stepping down after the season as a result of the escalating controversy.

Paterno, widely known as "JoePa" to Penn State fans and alums, has insisted that he knew little about the specifics of his longtime assistant's alleged conduct, despite prosecutors' claims that Paterno was told about a 2002 incident involving Sandusky and young boy in a clubhouse shower and relayed what he had heard to university officials.

"This is a tragedy," Paterno said in a public statement. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Prosecutors say Paterno fulfilled his obligation to report the incident to his superiors and have not charged the legendary football coach with any wrongdoing, although some have claimed Paterno had a moral obligation to do more.

But Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president of finance and business Gary Schultz have been charged under Pennsylvania's failure-to-report law, which sibling publication The Legal Intelligencer reports will face a significant test when prosecutors use it in trying to obtain convictions of the former school administrators. (Curley and Schultz also face perjury charges.)

Curley and Schultz stepped down from their respective posts Monday, not long after news of the charges levied against them and Sandusky broke over the weekend. Sandusky himself retired in 1999, but remained active with The Second Mile children's charity, which he founded in Penn State's hometown of State College, Pennsylvania, in 1977. Prosecutors, led by Pennsylvania attorney general Linda Kelly, claim that Sandusky met the eight boys he is accused of sexually assaulting over a 15-year period via his association with the Second Mile charity.

In an added wrinkle, the 23-page grand jury report laying out the state's charges against the Penn State trio notes that the university's former outside general counsel, Wendell Courtney of State College–based McQuaide Blasko, served as an attorney for Second Mile. According to the grand jury report, Courtney reviewed a 1998 report prepared by Penn State police that detailed inappropriate interactions between Sandusky and an underage boy. The incident never led to any formal charges, and efforts to understand why are complicated by the fact the former local district attorney, Ray Gricar, went missing under mysterious circumstances in 2005, according to The New York Times.

McQuaide Blasko's Web site identifies Courtney as pro bono counsel to Second Mile. He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday about his work for either the charity or Penn State. The university replaced Courtney and McQuaide Blasko as general counsel last year when it hired former Duane Morris partner Cynthia Baldwin—who served as a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 2006 to 2008—as its first in-house general counsel.

Baldwin is a familiar face at Penn State, having chaired the university's board of trustees from 2004 to 2007. Penn State hired her as its new legal chief after an external peer review recommended creating an in-house general counsel position, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Penn State's board of trustees issued a statement Tuesday saying it was "outraged by the horrifying details contained in the grand jury report." The board—which could still force Paterno to step down before the end of the year—is set to meet Friday to appoint a special committee to conduct an internal investigation into the Sandusky matter. The board is also expected to discuss the possibility of hiring outside counsel to review university policies for protecting children and reporting potentially improper behavior to the police.

There are currently at least five lawyers serving on the board of trustees: Fox Rothschild litigation partner Stephanie Deviney, former Penn State football and basketball player H. Jesse Arnelle (of counsel at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice until 2005), Robert Frey of Carlisle, Pennsylvania–based Frey & Tiley, former RIAA senior counsel for corporate affairs Barry Robinson, and former Pennsylvania politician and attorney Edward Zemprelli.

Sandusky, represented by State College solo practitioner Joseph Amendola, was freed on $100,000 bail over the weekend. Schultz and Curley stepped down from their respective positions this week and were released on $75,000 bail. Pittsburgh solo practitioner Caroline Roberto is representing Curley, 57, who has taken an administrative leave of absence to defend himself against the failure-to-report and perjury charges. Schultz, 67, announced his retirement and turned to Thomas Farrell of Pittsburgh's Farrell & Reisinger for counsel. (The Am Law Daily reported last year on the four-lawyer firm's high-profile sports clientele.)

While Paterno does not face the threat of criminal charges as a result of the unfolding scandal, he could face a series of civil actions from victims allegedly harmed by Sandusky. Paterno, who also serves on Second Mile's board of directors, has retained the services of Joshua Lock, a partner at Harrisburg-based Goldberg Katzman. Lock did not immediately respond to a request for comment. One of Paterno's three sons, G. Scott Paterno, is also an attorney in Harrisburg and once worked at Duane Morris.

One person saddened by the recent events is Duane Morris employment law and litigation associate Adam Taliaferro in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The Am Law Daily first caught up with Taliaferro three years ago, when the former Penn State football player was starting his legal career after recovering from a spinal cord injury suffered during a game in 2000 that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

After regaining the ability to walk, Taliaferro led his former teammates onto the field in front of 100,000 screaming Penn State fans for the first football game of the 2001 season. He graduated from law school in 2008, started his own foundation, and joined Duane Morris last year. Now, like many others close to the Penn State program, Taliaferro is shocked by the news out of Happy Valley.

"I know Coach Paterno and his whole family—they're like a second family to me—and it's been well documented what they've done for me after my injury," Taliaferro says. "Like anyone you know going through some type of adversity, you want to be there for them and to support them, and that's what I'm trying to do at this time."

Taliaferro, who made his first foray into local politics this week and will be attending Penn State's annual homecoming celebration this weekend, says he was surprised Wednesday to hear Paterno say he would step down at the end of this season.

"Coach Paterno is a legend in my eyes, and you hate to see a legend in anything go," Taliaferro says. "We all knew it was going to happen at some point in our lives, but you just never thought it was going to happen so soon. It's a surprise, but I look forward to being there this weekend to support him in his last home game."

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